In the final voting sessions of the 217th Legislature, the Senate and General Assembly gave final legislative approval to more than 100 pieces of pending legislation, several of which impact New Jersey’s public school districts and students. The bills now sit on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, and he has one week to sign any of the measures into law before he leaves office. Any measures not approved by the governor are “pocket vetoed” and would have to be reintroduced and approved by the new Legislature in the 2018-2019 session.

Below is a rundown and summary of education-related measures passed by both houses of the Legislature over the past week. Whatever action the governor takes on these bills will be reported in future editions of School Board Notes.

Cooperative Sports Programs & Student Athlete Participation A-5254/S-3447 allows public schools to let certain students not enrolled in the school to participate in high school interscholastic athletics. Specifically, the bill permits (but does not require) school districts to allow students who attend nonpublic schools to try out for, and participate in, a high school interscholastic athletic team in the student’s district of residence if the district is unable to field a team, due to a decline in interest or participation in the sport that impacts the ability of the district to safely field a team or squad. Such participation would also be permitted if the nonpublic school does not sponsor a high school interscholastic sports team in the sport in which the student wishes to participate. Comparable provisions are included in the bill that make it similarly applicable to homeschooled and charter school students. In addition, public school students who wish to participate in a school-sponsored high school interscholastic athletic team at a charter school would also be permitted to do so, under similar criteria. School districts and charter schools are permitted to charge a fee to students who participate in a school-sponsored high school interscholastic athletics team pursuant to this bill (except for students with a financial hardship). If signed into law, the bill will take effect on July 1, 2018.

The bill also allows public high schools in the same district to enter into cooperative sports programs under certain conditions. It requires the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to allow public high schools in the same school district to enter into a cooperative sports program for any sport at the varsity level if either of the schools demonstrates an inability to field a team at the varsity level due to: a decline in interest or participation in the sport at one of the schools that impacts the ability of that school to safely field a team; or budgetary constraints which force the elimination of certain sports programs at one of the schools.

The NJSBA expressed concerns with a previous version of the bill due to its mandatory nature. However, amendments now maintain local board control over the decision to allow nonpublic, homeschooled and charter school students to participate on a public high school’s interscholastic athletics team. Therefore, the NJSBA now supports the legislation.

Electronic Procurement A-2220/S-1729 authorizes local units of government subject to “Local Public Contracts Law” and “Public School Contracts Law” (i.e., boards of education) to use electronic procurement technologies. The bill authorizes local units to use electronic procurement practices for such purposes as may be authorized by the governing body of the local unit. The bill requires a local unit that uses an electronic procurement system to continue to publish advertising bids and requests for proposal in the local unit’s official newspaper. The NJSBA believes that boards should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds. Therefore NJSBA, along with its local government partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and the N.J. Association of Counties, strongly supports this legislation.

Combatting Chronic Absenteeism A-2352/S-447 requires the education commissioner to include the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension on School Report Card data. The bill also requires that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. In developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents and then present the plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

Smokeless Tobacco Ban A-493/S-293 prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco in any area of any building of, or on the grounds of, any public school. If enacted, every board of education would be required to place a sign at each public entrance of a public school building indicating that the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited. The board is required to direct anyone in violation of the prohibition to comply, and the bill imposes a fine on anyone who continues to use smokeless tobacco after being ordered to comply with the prohibition ($250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense). However, the fine would not be imposed if the violator is a student. Rather, he or she would be prohibited from participating in all extracurricular activities and would have his or her parking permit revoked. In the event that the Department of Health or a local board of health receives a written complaint or has reason to suspect that a public school is in violation of the bill’s provisions, the department or board would advise the school district and order that appropriate actions be taken. If the district fails to take action, it would be subject to the same penalties that may be imposed on individuals that violate the prohibition. NJSBA supports the bill.

Regulating Use of Restraints/Seclusion A-501/S-1163 establishes various requirements and restrictions regarding the use of physical restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in public school districts, educational services commissions (ESCs), and approved private schools for students with disabilities (PSSDs). The bill also requires the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) to establish guidelines to ensure a review process is in place for school districts, ESCs, and PSSDs to review the use of physical restraints and seclusion techniques in emergency situations and the repeated use of these measures on a single student, within a single classroom, or by a single individual.

Computer Science Course Requirement A-2873/S-2485 requires school districts to offer a course in computer science and for the NJDOE to adopt changes to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in computer science. No later than the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, each public school enrolling students in grades nine through 12 shall offer a course in computer science. The course shall be informed by the review undertaken by the NJDOE pursuant to a 2015 law that requires the department to review the Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure that they incorporate modern computer science standards where appropriate. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, the State Board of Education shall adopt any appropriate changes to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards and graduation requirements based upon the review undertaken by the NJDOE.

Computer Science Endorsement A-3870/S-2397 directs the State Board of Education to authorize a computer science education endorsement to the instructional certificate.The endorsement would authorize the holder to teach computer science in all public schools, and would be required to teach computer science in grades 9 through 12 beginning at such time as the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the computer science education endorsement to make the requirement feasible. The bill includes a grandfather provision that permits a teacher to be issued a computer science education endorsement upon application to the State Board of Examiners, if the person is teaching computer science within the three years prior to such time as the State Board determines to require a computer science education endorsement to teach computer science.

Pedestrian Safety Driver’s Ed A-4165/S-2894 requires driver education courses, new driver brochures, and the driver’s license written exam to include cyclist and pedestrian safety information. This bill requires the curriculum for approved classroom driver education courses and the informational brochure distributed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to the parents and guardians of beginning drivers to include information concerning operating a motor vehicle in a manner that safely shares the roadway with pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, riders of motorized-scooters, and other non-motorized vehicles. The bill further provides that the written driving examination must include questions on cyclist and pedestrian safety. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Dual Language Immersion A-4318/S-2704 requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, with the approval of the State Board of Education, to develop a program to award grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. A school district or charter school may be eligible to receive funds if it uses an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in the other language. The program would have to begin in kindergarten or grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner. The bill establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund to finance the grant program. NJSBA supports the measure.

Local Government Investment Pools A-4404/S-2978 permits local units and school districts to invest in local government investment pools managed in accordance with applicable Governmental Accounting Standards Board guidelines. NJSBA supports the bill.

Fire Safety Initiative A-5074/S-3416 directs the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Community Affairs to conduct a survey of fire suppression systems in all public and nonpublic school buildings in New Jersey and to provide those results to the New Jersey Department of Education. According to the sponsor’s statement, many school buildings in the New Jersey were constructed decades ago and do not have adequate fire suppression systems installed, and many others have systems that are not fully operational. The state cannot properly address this serious problem without accurate information regarding the status of fire suppression systems in every school building. This bill would provide the appropriate agencies with the information necessary to take appropriate action in the future.

School Bus Driver Safety A-597 establishes the crimes of operating a school bus with suspended or revoked driving privileges and being involved in an accident causing bodily injury. The bill permanently prohibits passenger and school bus CDL endorsements for persons convicted of those crimes. NJSBA supports the bill.

Safely Transporting Students in Wheelchairs A-1257/S-2638 requires school buses transporting students using wheelchairs to be equipped with a four-point securement system. In addition, students using wheelchairs are required to be secured using the four-point securement system at all times while the bus is in operation. Under current federal regulations, each school bus that is designed to carry a passenger who uses a wheelchair must have no less than four wheelchair securement anchorages. Therefore, to the extent that the bill’s requirements are consistent with current federal regulations, the legislation will not lead to an increase in school districts’ expenditures. NJSBA supports the bill.

Financial Literacy A-3396/S-2885 directs the State Board of Education to require that a school district incorporate financial literacy instruction for pupils enrolled in grades kindergarten through eight. Such instruction would provide these students with the basic financial literacy necessary for sound financial decision-making. The instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board of Education and must be appropriate to, and reflect the age and comprehension of, the students enrolled in the particular grade level; and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment, and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility. NJSBA supports the measure.

School Panic Alarms A-191/S-2313 requires school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm that is linked to local law enforcement. Specifically, the legislation requires that all public schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, which will not be audible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities and must immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. The bill also requires that all public schools be equipped with a red emergency light that is affixed to the exterior of the school building in a highly visible location above or near the front entrance visible from the nearest public roadway or, if the school building is not visible from the nearest public roadway, then on that roadway. The bill requires that the emergency light be linked to the school’s panic alarm so that it turns on when the panic alarm is activated. With respect to funding, the bill directs that the proceeds of bonds authorized to be issued to fund the state share of the costs of Schools Development Authority district school facilities projects or the state share of the costs of school facilities projects in all other districts be used to fund the full cost of the panic alarms and emergency lights. The legislation, which has been vetoed twice by Gov. Christie, includes the NJSBA’s recommended amendments that inserted a source of funding to offset school districts’ implementation costs. Therefore, the Association supports the measure.

Celebrating Career and Technical Education The General Assembly also approved Assembly Resolution No. 113, which designates the month of February 2018 as “Career and Technical Education Month” in New Jersey in order to recognize and promote the many benefits of career and technical education in this State. AR-113 also encourages students, parents, and other citizens of the state to learn more about career and technical education, county vocational-technical school programs, and well-paying career pathways that can be launched with an industry credential or a technical degree. New Jersey employers are encouraged to become active partners with county vocational-technical schools to align curriculum with their workforce needs and provide meaningful work-based learning opportunities to students. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Governor Takes Action

On Monday, Gov. Christie took action on several pieces of legislation that the Legislature approved over the last month. Here are the three new laws, each of which went into effect immediately, which may be of significance to NJSBA members:

Domestic Violence Policies P.L.2017, c.272 (A-4124/S-2907) requires public employers to implement certain policies for handling and responding to reports of domestic violence. The Civil Service Commission will develop a uniform domestic violence policy to be adopted by all public employers and distributed to their employees, regardless of whether a public employer is subject to Civil Service.

Breastfeeding Rights in the Workplace P.L.2017, c.263 (A-2294/S-2709) expands certain civil rights protections under the “Law Against Discrimination” to include breastfeeding and expressing milk or related medical conditions. Under the law, it would be a civil rights violation for a working woman to be fired or otherwise discriminated against because of breastfeeding or expressing her milk during breaks. The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable break time each day and a suitable location for an employee who is breastfeeding to express her milk in private.

PSSDs and HIB Immunity P.L.2017, c.274 (A-4457/S-3559) provides immunity to board of director members and employees of private schools for students with disabilities (PSSDs) if they report incidents of bullying in compliance with school policy. This law will provide PSSDs same immunity that is currently given to members of a school board and school district employees under the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”